SKOWHEGAN, Maine — When Richard Reynolds showed up at his estranged wife’s residence in Fairfield early on Jan. 12, 2007, he was armed with a gun and a purpose. What is being argued in a Skowhegan courtroom this week is whether he was there for suicide or murder.
When his wife, Rhonda Wakefield-Reynolds, ended up with him in a bedroom, was she luring a suicidal man away from her two sons who were only feet away in the living room? Or was she forced into that bedroom, threatened and shot in the head — a shot that threw her against the wall and behind a bookcase?
Both scenarios were presented Tuesday in the opening day of Reynolds’ trial in Skowhegan Superior Court.
Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea maintains that Reynolds planned his wife’s murder in retaliation for her winning sole custody of the couple’s two young sons. Zainea said Reynolds planned the shooting, went to an adult son’s home to claim a gun, and hid his car when he went to the Fairfield home where she was staying.
Defense attorney Peter Barnett, however, claimed the shooting was an accident, part of a botched suicide attempt by Reynolds, who felt he had nothing to live for once he lost his wife and sons.
Justice Andrew Horton is hearing Reynolds’ jury-waived murder trial.
Reynolds, 41, is accused of shooting his wife in the head at her temporary residence in Fairfield, one day after she was granted custody of the couple’s sons, and after months of marital problems. Wakefield-Reynolds, 37, died the next day.
During the few months before the killing, both parties had taken out protection from abuse orders against the other. Wakefield-Reynolds had accused her husband of rape and physical abuse. Reynolds had accused his wife of extramarital affairs and drug use. Reynolds said he also was concerned about his sons, since police were investigating allegations by one of the children that his maternal grandfather had sexually molested him. The allegations later were proved unfounded.
On Christmas Eve 2006, Wakefield-Reynolds called police when her husband threatened suicide and Reynolds was forced to surrender his guns. They were turned over to his adult son from a previous marriage.
In opening arguments Tuesday, Zainea said there was no doubt the killing was premeditated. She said Reynolds believed the court system had failed him when it granted his wife custody of the boys, then 4 and 6.
“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Zainea said of Reynolds’ actions on the day he shot his wife. Days before the shooting, Zainea said, Reynolds told his sister-in-law “if he couldn’t have the kids, he would do what he had to do to get them.” Zainea said that Reynolds also told his son, “Sometimes you have to kill the devil” and made his son promise to care for the younger sons in the future. Zainea also claimed Reynolds said, “Rhonda was going to get what she deserved.”
Defense attorney Barnett, however, said the shooting was accidental and that Reynolds had gone to the home where his wife was staying to kill himself. “He felt he had nothing left to live for,” Barnett said. “He knows he is responsible and acknowledges his responsibility, but Richard Reynolds did not plan, did not premeditate to kill his wife.”
Barnett told the court that when Reynolds went to the home, he entered the living room area and put a .40-caliber handgun to his chest, intending to shoot himself. Barnett maintained that Wakefield-Reynolds told him, “Not in front of the kids,” and took him to a nearby bedroom.
Barnett said that when Reynolds heard his children approaching the bedroom, he was distracted and somehow the gun discharged, striking Wakefield-Reynolds in the head. Reynolds then fled the home with his two sons, both barefoot and clad only in pajamas, and within the hour had turned himself in to the Waterville Police Department and confessed to the killing.
Sitting in the police station entry, Reynolds was sobbing and shaking, Waterville Officer Galen Estes testified. “He had his head in his hands and said ‘Galen, I shot my wife,’’’ Estes said. Reynolds then told Estes he thought she was dead and where Estes could find her body.
Eleven witnesses testified during the first day of the trial, including police officers who responded to the shooting report, officers who investigated the incident and a neighbor who witnessed Reynolds’ alleged abduction of his children.
Also testifying were the victim’s brother and sister-in-law Kempton Wakefield Jr. and Debbie Wakefield. The couple had opened their home to Wakefield-Reynolds and her sons the day before the shooting. But after learning of Reynolds’ threats against his wife, Debbie Wakefield said, “I didn’t feel safe in my own house.”
Both testified that when they last saw Wakefield-Reynolds, on the morning of Jan. 12, 2007, she was making plans for the day.
“She was happy and upbeat,” Debbie Wakefield testified. “She had been reunited with her sons and was looking forward to starting over.”
Barnett conducted a limited cross-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses, asking a handful of questions to only three witnesses.
The trial will continue today in Skowhegan District Court, across the street from the county courthouse. The move was prompted by a high number of arraignments set for the Superior Court courtroom.